What is it like to do dentistry in Haiti? That was my question when I was asked to head a group of people to a small town called Delatte. No running water and no electricity; how was I going to pull this off? That was 9 years ago! Each year, a small group of us bring 15 suitcases of supplies and help the poorest of the poor get out of pain; people who have never seen a dentist. We typically see 300 patients in 4 days and remove 500-600 teeth. At the end of each trip, I wish I could do more. I cannot thank Dan Redifer and Patterson Dental enough for donating supplies each year!
It has been both rewarding and humbling each day waking up to the alarm clock provided by the roosters outside. Each morning we attended church, followed by a breakfast of plantains, bananas, mangos, sweetened juice and boiled pasta. The coffee however is second to none! The local people have been on the road (walking of course, some in bare feet) for hours by now to get in line to see us. Our humble clinic of 4 patio chairs is set up in the back of a large church with either 2 or 3 dentists providing extractions. There is no suction so we use plastic cups for the patients to “spit” in and a 4×4 gauze to wipe their mouth. People wait, sitting squished next to each other, waiting for their turn, for hours. It is not that we don’t have room for them, I believe they just want to be closer to the front of the line! Because nourishment is limited we provide protein bars while they are waiting. We will work with headlamps until we finish or when the priest insists that we stop. It is hard to say, go home and try again tomorrow. My heart breaks that when we leave after four days, it will be another year until we come back.
This year I purchased a portable dental unit from Asceptico. Our church in Traverse City purchased a large generator for the grounds of the church where we stay and work. My hope is that next year that we can have a hygienist or two, to provide “cleanings” and dentists to provide preventative dentistry.